Female genital mutilation, or FGM, refers to the procedure that is carried out on girls and young women under the age of 18.
It’s a practice that involves removing the external female genitalia and causing injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
Although there are many groups and organisations working to end FGM across the world, it is still widely carried out in many countries.
What does FGM mean?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice that involved cutting, injuring or changing a female’s genitals.
In many countries, it’s known as female circumcision or cutting. It may also be referred to by using other terms like sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan.
The painful procedure, that’s normally performed on young girls before puberty starts, is classified into four different categories:
- Clitoridectomy: where part of, or all, the clitoris is removed
- Excision: where part of, or all, the clitoris and the labia minora are removed
- Infibulation: where the vaginal opening is narrowed through a seal that’s formed by cutting or repositioning the labia
- Other: any other type of non-medical procedure that is carried out on female genitalia like pricking, incising, scraping or piercing
What is FGM safeguarding?
FGM safeguarding is a responsibility that certain groups have to notify the appropriate authorities if they believe a young girl is at risk of FGM or has recently had FGM carried out on her.
FGM is illegal in the UK and, if you are in contact with a girl who you think is at risk of FGM, you must notify the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) team.
This is outlined in The Serious Crime Act 2015, which states that all teachers and registered health and social care professionals have a responsibility to report cases directly to the police as well as their designated safeguarding lead.
It’s important for these groups of people to take their safeguarding role in relation to FGM seriously as over 20,000 young women under 15 in the UK are at risk of FGM. A further 170,000 women are living with the consequences of FGM.
Why is FGM performed?
The reasons behind FGM will vary largely depending on the country it’s taking place in. In some countries, FGM is seen as a rite of passage for girls looking to enter womanhood.
In other countries, FGM is believed to bring honour to girls and their families, while ensuring the girls’ ability to get married in the future.
In other cases, it’s a practice that’s used to suppress a woman’s sexuality and enhance sexual pleasure for men.
It’s thought that at least 200 million girls and women aged 15–49 from 31 countries have been subjected to FGM.
Why does FGM happen?
FGM is mostly due to a deeply-ingrained social norm that is prevalent in the countries where this practice commonly takes place. In these societies, gender inequality is common and violence against women is socially acceptable.
In the last 30 years, many groups have been trying to eliminate the practice. This means that young girls are less at risk of undergoing this procedure than generations before them.
However, it’s not being eradicated fast enough. For example, in Guinea and Somalia over 90% of women still have to go through the tortuous FGM procedure. A procedure that can cause a range of short- and long-term effects such as severe pain, infections, and damage to their reproductive health.
Where is FGM legal?
FGM is most commonly carried out in 30 countries around Africa and the Middle East. However, there are still cases of FGM being documented in most countries and continents around the world – including Europe and North America.
How to stop FGM?
FGM is an unfair and outdated procedure that needs to be eliminated from society.
According to Plan International, some of the ways that FGM can be stopped include:
- Educate girls and empower them to make decisions about their own body
- Change outdated traditions, and focus on getting support from older generations
- Be vocal about the life-long consequences FGM can impose on girls
- Teach people that FGM is not condoned by any religion
- Encourage women to speak out about it, rather than let the secrecy continue
Who should FGM be reported to?
If you’re concerned about a girl who you think may be at risk of FGM, the best thing to do is follow your local safeguarding procedures.
If there’s a situation where you think a girl is in imminent danger of FGM, you should notify the police immediately.
Our family and child care solicitors at National Legal Service can help you secure a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order (FGMPO) and advise you on the protection against FGM you can receive from the courts.